One theory of human dispersal routes in Asia

Genetic studies of 28 of China's 56 ethnic groups, published by the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project in 2000, indicate that the first Chinese descended from Africans who migrated along the Indian Ocean and made their way to China via Southeast Asia.

DNA studies have shown that all Asians descend from two common lineages: 1) one more common in southern Asia, particularly among Vietnamese, Malays and New Guineans; and 2) one more common in northern Asia, particularly among Tibetans, Koreans and Siberians.

An exhaustive analysis of the genes of 8,200 ethnic Chinese has revealed subtle genetic difference in Chinese that live in northern China and those that live in southern China. A study by Liu Jianjun of the Science, Technology and Research Agency of Singapore, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2009, revealed variants between the two groups that are somewhat consistent with those of historical migrations to the two regions.

In December 2009 Lui told Reuters, “This genetic map...tells us how people differ from each other, or how people are more closely linked to each other...We don't know what these variants are responsible for. Some have clinical outcomes and influence disease development. This is what we are interested in genetic variation." The scientist also found genetic difference between Chinese dialect groups. Liu told Reuters, “Different dialect groups are definitely not identical...language is a reflection of our evolution, that's why you see the differences." For More on this See Below.

Origin of the First Chinese: from a Historical Perspective

Another theory of human dispersal routes in Asia

Ping-Ti Ho, the late Chinese-American historian at Columbia University, wrote: “It is my guess that, since the loessic soil made it possible for large numbers of Yang-shao farmers to live closely together along numerous small streams, they had learned instinctively and empirically that the only way to avoid unnecessary violence and bloodshed was to respect each other’s territoriality (as do primates and large carnivorous animals) and rights to survival. Psychically, therefore, the circle demarcating “us” and “them” was constantly being enlarged in favor of the former, once the benefits of peaceful coexistence were better understood (Ho 1996). Over time, notions and norms that guided dealings among various feudal states and ethnic groups crystallized into what may be regarded as a unique Sinitic ethical precept, best expressed in Confucius’ Analects: “Restore states that have been annexed and revive lines that have become extinct (hsing-mieh-kuo, chichiieh-shih)” (Lau 1992, 201). [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho,“In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Reenvisioning the Qing,” ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155 ]

“While this ethical precept could at best only mitigate the unceasing processes of annexing small and weak states by the large and powerful, it does help to explain how and why the ancient Sinitic world had kept on expanding. Mencius explains it best: “Shun [the legendary sage king before Yu) was originally an Eastern barbarian; King Wen [of Chou) was originally a Western barbarian…. their native places were a thousand Ii apart, and there were a thousand years between them. But when they got their wish, and carried their principles into practice throughout the Middle Kingdom, it was like uniting the two halves of a seal.”

“What Mencius really meant to say is that the original “Sinitic” group was relatively small and that any subsequent leaders of non-Sinitic tribes or states who adopted the original Sinitic way of life and contributed to its enrichment were retrospectively to be regarded as sage-kings of the progressively enlarging Sinitic world. This saying of Mencius suggests that long before the rise of Chou the fundamental criterion for defining membership in the Sinitic world was the awareness of a common cultural heritage rather than rigid racial or ethnic identity (Ho 1975, 344). It is also prophetic because throughout the following millennia this deeply ingrained culture-orientation in interethnic relationships has largely accounted for the fact that China has become a state with fifty-six officially defined “nationalities.”

Genetic Origin of Chinese

In September 1998, an international scientific team demonstrated that the peoples of northern and southern China cluster into distinct regional genetic populations that share inherited characteristics. Lee Hotz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Those groups, in turn, can be divided into even smaller, separate genetic groups. Yet, overall, they all are descendants of a single population group that may have migrated into China eons before humans learned to write or forge metal tools, the new research suggests.” [Source: Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1998 |]

Published in a September 1998 “edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the product of the Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project, a consortium of seven major research groups in the People's Republic of China, and the Human Genetics Center at the University of Texas at Houston. It was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The group used the advanced tools of DNA analysis to create detailed genetic profiles of 28 of China's official population groups, which make up more than 90 percent of the country's population, to try to understand the roots of complex chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. |

“By exploring the genetic relationships among China's ethnic groups, the team also shed light on the ancestry of people in East Asia, who, like everyone, carry in every cell of their bodies genetic hints to their evolutionary history and the journeys of their forebears. In all, the Chinese government today recognizes 56 ethnic groups. Just one of them, the Han, makes up the bulk of the population, comprising about 1.1 billion people. The 55 other ethnic minority groups encompass about 100 million people. |

“To study the diverse genetic inheritance of such an enormous population, the researchers used a special set of genetic markers called microsatellites. These extremely short chemical segments of DNA mutate very rapidly. That lets scientists use them as signposts to mark how populations diverged or merged over time, reconstructing their evolutionary journey across time and the continents to their present homes.

Human migration beginning 170,000 years ago
according to genetic evidence

Study Traces Genetic Origin of Chinese to Africa

The September 1998 Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project study above reported that most of the population of modern China owes its genetic origins to Africa, a finding that debunks any claim that modern Chinese somehow originated independently in China. Robert Lee Hotz wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “In the search for human origins, in which political beliefs and pride of place can figure as much as fossil evidence, the new genetic findings dramatically illustrate the intricate weave of prehistoric migrations and human evolution, the scientists said. [Source: Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1998 |]

“The scientists looked at 30 such microsatellite markers across 28 of the population groups in China and compared the pattern to 11 other population groups around the world. "Populations from East Asia always derived from a single lineage, indicating the single origins of those populations," they said. "It is now probably safe to conclude that modern humans originating in Africa constitute the majority of the current gene pool in East Asia," they said. |

“While few scholars today dispute the idea that the earliest ancestors of the human species evolved in Africa, there still is considerable debate over how modern humanity evolved from its more primitive ancestors. Many anthropologists believe humans may have migrated out of Africa in waves. More than a million years ago, humanity's primitive ancestors, known as Homo erectus, walked out of Africa to colonize Europe, the Middle East and Asia. On that everyone agrees. Then several hundred thousand years later, some theorize, a second wave of more sophisticated tool-using humans migrated out of Africa and overwhelmed those earlier ancestors. By that theory, modern humans are descended only from those sophisticated tool-users. |

“Other researchers dispute that pattern. In their view, there was no second wave of migration from Africa. Instead, they believe, humankind evolved in China and elsewhere as colonies of more primitive Homo erectus intermarried in a global network of genetic relationships. "The issue," said University of Michigan anthropologist Milford Wilpoff, "is about whether people have multiple ancestors from many places or one ancestor from one place." |

Migration routes in Asia before 33,000 years ago

North-South Variations of Chinese DNA

According to the abstract of the paper “Genetic Structure of the Han Chinese Population Revealed by Genome-wide SNP Variation”: Population stratification is a potential problem for genome-wide association studies (GWAS), confounding results and causing spurious associations. Hence, understanding how allele frequencies vary across geographic regions or among subpopulations is an important prelude to analyzing GWAS data. [Source: “Genetic Structure of the Han Chinese Population Revealed by Genome-wide SNP Variation” by Jieming Chen, Houfeng Zheng, Jin-Xin Bei, Liangdan Sun,3,Wei-hua Jia, Tao Li, Furen Zhang,Mark Seielstad, Yi-Xin Zeng, Xuejun Zhang and Jianjun Liu, American Journal of Human Genetics, December 11, 2009; 85(6): 775–785]

“Using over 350,000 genome-wide autosomal SNPs in over 6000 Han Chinese samples from ten provinces of China, our study revealed a one-dimensional “north-south” population structure and a close correlation between geography and the genetic structure of the Han Chinese. The north-south population structure is consistent with the historical migration pattern of the Han Chinese population. Metropolitan cities in China were, however, more diffused “outliers,” probably because of the impact of modern migration of peoples. At a very local scale within the Guangdong province, we observed evidence of population structure among dialect groups, probably on account of endogamy within these dialects.

“Via simulation, we show that empirical levels of population structure observed across modern China can cause spurious associations in GWAS if not properly handled. In the Han Chinese, geographic matching is a good proxy for genetic matching, particularly in validation and candidate-gene studies in which population stratification cannot be directly accessed and accounted for because of the lack of genome-wide data, with the exception of the metropolitan cities, where geographical location is no longer a good indicator of ancestral origin. Our findings are important for designing GWAS in the Chinese population, an activity that is expected to intensify greatly in the near future.”

DNA and the Origins of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans

The shared Chinese gene pool between Japanese and Koreans is thought to be formed of Dong-Yi stock(named after the Dong and Yi Chinese ethnic groups) that later formed the Puyo peoples of the Paekche kingdom and Koguyro kingdoms of the Korean peninsula. mtDNA haplogroup A which is widespread in Asia today occurs at levels below 10 percent in moost of Asia, but reaches higher concentrations in some parts of China, Korea and Japan. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

Migration routes in Asia 33,000 to 19,000 years ago

Overall, Japanese are closest to Tibetans and Han Chinese, but only marginally more so than to the Koreans. Meredith T. Knight wrote in “An Introduction to Haplogroups: An Interactive Activity developed by Meredith T. Knight “Some ethnic Chinese populations, such as the Dong and the Yi, carry haplogroup A at levels as high as 30 percent. One branch of the haplogroup, A4, reaches levels of more than 15 percent among mitochondrial DNA samples collected in the city of Wuhan in central China.... Ancient China’s famous Terracotta Army was constructed by men bearing haplogroup A.” [Source: An Introduction to Haplogroups: An Interactive Activity developed by Meredith T. Knight at Tufts University |:|]

“Ancient mtDNA in Siberia Haplogroup A was widespread in Siberia in ancient times. One study of skeletal remains discovered near Siberia's Lake Baikal estimated the haplogroup was present in 13-26 percent of the region's population 7,000 years ago, and is almost exclusively among the Chukchi and the Yupik, two small indigenous groups from northeastern Siberia. |:|

“M7, a widespread haplogroup found in China, Japan, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. [M8, a widespread haplogroup in central and eastern Asia that eventually sent an offshoot to the Americas. M9, which appears to have arisen in Tibet.] While Haplogroup M is widespread throughout South and East Asia, it originates from the Indian sub-continent where it is more diverse on there than anywhere else in the world.” |:|

Genetic Evidence Links Together People from Northeast Asia

A 1988 study on distribution of genetic markers of human immunoglobin allotypes among Mongoloid populations revealed a high frequency of the Gm ab3st gene marker among people in northeast Asia. This markers is found among Buriats around Lake Baikal in Russia, Eskimos, Tibetans, Japanese, Koreans, Ainus (an ethnic group in northern Japan) and Siberian and Far East Russian ethnic groups such as the Koryaks, Yakuts, Olunchuns and Tungus. [Source: “Characteristics of Mongoloid and neighboring populations based on the genetic markers of human immunoglobulins. Matsumoto H., Human Genetics, 1988 Nov;80(3):207-18: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

H. Matsumoto wrote in Human Genetics: “Since the discovery in 1966 of the Gm ab3st gene, which characterizes Mongoloid populations, the distribution of allotypes of immunoglobulins (Gm) among Mongoloid populations scattered from Southeast Asia through East Asia to South America has been investigated, and the following conclusions can be drawn: 1) Mongoloid populations can be characterized by four Gm haplotypes, Gm ag, axg, ab3st, and afb1b3, and can be divided into two groups based on the analysis of genetic distances utilizing Gm haplotype frequency distributions: the first is a southern group characterized by a remarkably high frequency of Gm afb1b3 and a low frequency of Gm ag, and the second, a northern group characterized by a high frequency of both Gm ag and Gm ab3st but an extremely low frequency of Gm afb1b3.

Migration routes in Asia 19,000 to 8,000 years ago

“2) Populations in China, mainly Han but including minority nationalities, show remarkable heterogeneity of Gm allotypes from north to south and contrast sharply to Korean and Japanese populations, which are considerably more homogenous with respect to these genetic markers. The center of dispersion of the Gm afb1b3 gene characterizing southern Mongoloids has been identified as the Guangxi and Yunnan area in the southwest of China.

“3) The Gm ab3st gene, which is found with the highest incidence among the northern Baikal Buriats, flows in all directions. However, this gene shows a precipitous drop from mainland China to Taiwan and Southeast Asia and from North to South America, although it is still found in high frequency among Eskimos, Koryaks, Yakuts, Tibetans, Olunchuns, Tungus, Koreans, Japanese, and Ainus. On the other hand, the gene was introduced into Huis, Uyghurs, Indians, Iranians, and spread as far as to include Hungarians and Sardinians in Italy. On the basis of these results, it is concluded that the Japanese race belongs to northern Mongoloids and that the origin of the Japanese race was in Siberia, and most likely in the Baikal area of the Soviet Union.”

Han Culture and its Expansion: from the View of Chinese Geneticists

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “The spread of culture in human populations can be explained by two alternative models. The demic diffusion model involves mass movement of people, while the cultural diffusion model refers to cultural impact between populations (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). Historical records show that the Hans originated from the ancient Huaxia tribes in northern China and experienced a continuous expansion into southern China over the past two millennia (Ge et al. 1997). [Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang, Li Jin. Royal Society, June 29, 2007 ***]

“To test this hypothesis of demic diffusion, Wen et al. (2004a,b) examined genetic variations on both NRY and mtDNA in 28 Han populations in China. According to the NRY data, northern (NH) and southern Hans (SH) share similar haplogroup frequencies. The M122-C mutation is prevalent in almost all the Han populations studied (53.8 percent in NHs and 54.2 percent in SHs), while M119-C and M95-T, prevalent in southern natives (SNs), are more frequent in SHs (19 percent) than in NHs (5 percent). Some haplogroups prevalent in SNs, such as O1b-M110, O2a1-M88 and O3d-M7, are only observed in some SHs. According to the mtDNA lineages, NHs and SHs are significantly different in their mtDNA lineages. The frequency of haplogroups dominant in the NEAS (A, C, D, G, M8a, Y and Z) is 55 percent in NHs, which is much higher than that in SHs (36 percent). In contrast, the frequency of the haplogroups dominant in SNs (B, F, R9a, R9b and N9a) is much higher in SHs (55 percent) than in NHs (33 percent). ***

Migration routes in Asia 8,000 to 5,000 years ago

“These observations of Wen et al. (2004a,b) are consistent with historical records, in which the continuous southward migration of the Hans caused by warfare and famine is mentioned. Taking this genetic and historic evidence into account, it can be concluded that the migration into South China is one of the main causes of the expansion of Han culture. ***

“In the past decade, the NRY and mtDNA markers have been used to analyse the genetic structure of almost all the 56 officially identified ethnic groups and other unsorted populations. As well as the major members of the CHGDP, more and more Chinese research groups have been joining this promising field of scientific research. ***

“In Korea and Japan, human genetic diversity projects have also been launched and some interesting findings have been published. Hammer & Horai (1995) found that the insertion allele of YAP (also called DYS287) is prevalent (approximately 42 percent) in Japanese populations. Differing from the E-YAP+ haplogroup in Africans, West Asians and Europeans, the Y chromosomes of YAP+ belong to the D haplogroup (defined by M174), which is at a high frequency in Japanese and Tibetans but is rare in many other East Asian populations, such as the Han Chinese (Jobling & Tyler-Smith 2003). It is suggested that YAP+ chromosomes might have migrated to Japan with the Jomon people over 10 000 years ago (Hammer & Horai 1995). Tajima et al. (2002) used seven biallelic Y-SNPs (DYS257108, DYS287, SRY4064, SRY10831, RPS4Y711, M9 and M15) to analyse 610 males from 14 global populations; their results suggested that three major groups with different paternal ancestries separately migrated to prehistoric East and Southeast Asia. Jin et al. (2003) examined eight Y-SNP markers (YAP, RPS4Y711, M9, M175, LINE1, SRY+465, 47z and M95) and three Y-STR markers (DYS390, DYS391 and DYS393) in 738 males (including 160 Koreans and 108 Japanese) in East Asia to study the paternal lineage history of Korea. The distribution pattern of Y-chromosomal haplogroups suggested a dual origin for Koreans (a northern Asian settlement and expansion from southern into northern China). ***

“By sequencing the complete mitochondrial genomes of 672 Japanese individuals, Tanaka et al. (2004) constructed an mtDNA phylogeny with high resolution and found some new haplogroups. This phylogeny will be very helpful for analysing the mtDNA diversity and tracing the migration of the maternal lineage of East Asians. In addition, Tanaka et al. (2004) combined their data with mtDNA sequences from other populations of Asia and revealed that present-day Japanese have the closest genetic affinity to the northern Asian populations. ***

Hsing-Lung-Wa and the Early People of the Mongolian Steppe

Ancient Khitan horsemen

The Mongolian steppe, located to the north of China proper and also known as the Central Plains, provided the historical setting for the development of numerous nomadic peoples. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “At the dawn of the Neolithic Age, i.e., some 8,000 years ago, the Hsing-lung-wa Culture emerged in the eastern part of the landlocked region, where people based their economic life chiefly on primitive agriculture, fishing and hunting. The carved stone figure of a goddess that is possibly the earliest object of worship in the form of a female goddess in China. Excavations in the area also yielded a large number of jade objects that date to 3,000 B.C. or so. Characteristic of the Hung-shan Culture, these relics are considered as significant as jade pieces of the Liang-chu Culture. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Approximately 3,500 years ago the climate began to change, gradually turning Inner Mongolia into an area of vast grasslands. The nomadic tribes active on the steppe were truly complex and diverse, and were identified by dwellers of the agricultural culture in the south by a multitude of different names. Some of the names found in classical Chinese historical literature include Kuei-fang, Hsien-yun, Jung-ti and Hsiung-nu (known in the West as the Huns). Excavated artifacts such as the gold hawk-shaped hat ornament and other metal ornaments with motifs of ferocious birds and animals signify the brave and fierce nature of these northern tribes. \=/

“The early nomadic tribes active on the steppe were truly complex and diverse. They were identified by dwellers of the agricultural culture in the south with such names as Kuei-fang, Hsien-yun, Jung-ti and Hsiung-nu. Excavated ornaments with patterns of fierce birds and animals suggest the nature of these northern tribes. After the decline of the Hsiung-nu domination, a host of other nomadic groups rose to prominence in China's northern frontier. \=/

“Artifacts of the tribes known as Wu-huan, Hsien-pei, Turks, Khitans, Jurchens and Mongols, who were but a few of the peoples on the Mongolian steppe, have been found and are displayed at museums. Some of the tribes entered the Central Plains and set up imperial rule. Other groups held power over both the steppe and the agricultural regions of the south. Generally speaking, though, cultural exchange in Inner Mongolia over the last two thousand years or so has been a constant and common force regardless of whether the region was ruled by the Han Chinese or by the northern tribes. \=/

“More often than not the history of such cultural exchange is told through the archeological finds themselves as an examination of artifacts from different historical periods and from various tribal cultures so demonstrates. After all, the northern tribes had over time absorbed the legacies of neighboring areas in the west and in the south directly into their cultural domains. The Great Wall of China was erected as a definite border to keep the nomads of the pastoral north away from the farmers of the cultivated south. Traditionally, the Chinese have viewed their history only in terms of the regions south of the Great Wall. However, if we were to remove this fence in our perception, what kind of picture of the world would emerge?” \=/

Links Between the Early Chinese and Early Turkic and Mongol Tribes

Genghis Khan

Ping-Ti Ho, the late Chinese-American historian at Columbia University, wrote: “From the standpoint of sinicization, China’s long imperial age (221 B.C.-A.D. 1911) may be conveniently demarcated by the end of the Turk-dominated Five Dynasties and the inception of the Sung in 959-960. Prior to this watershed, the polyethnic empires of Han (206 B.C-A.D. 220) and T’ang (618-907) were the outcome of Chinese expansion and conquest. After 960 it was the aliens who succeeded in partial or total conquest of China. Although the alien dynasties of conquest-the Khitan Liao, Jurchen Chin, Mongol Yuan, and Manchu Ch’ing-have attracted most attention of Western students of Chinese history, the various pre-960 non-Chinese groups may have played a far more important role in the growth of China as a multiethnic state. [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Reenvisioning the Qing,” ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155 ]

“This may be partially shown statistically. The great steppe empire of the Huns (Hsiung-nu), which reached the height of its power around 200 B.C., boasted of between 300,000 and 400,000 horse-riding archers, not including a fairly large Wuhuan population enslaved by them for farm and sundry work. (Wu-huan was one of the Tung-hu, literally the “Eastern Barbarian,” groups who belonged to the proto-Mongolic linguistic family.) This would mean a total Hun population of between 1.5 and 2 million. This figure takes on extra meaning when we realize that the then population of Han China probably did not amount to one-third of the peak former Han population of nearly 60 million in A.D. 2. In other words, the ratio of Hsiungnu to Chinese population is likely to have been 1:1O. We find a similar situation in the early seventh century: a total population of 2 million for the Turkish empire as compared to a total of less than 3 million registered households during the reign of T’ang T’ai-tsung (627-49); and the Turks were but one of a score or so of non-Chinese ethnic groups within and without T’ang China.

“The Han period initiated the policy of letting large non Chinese ethnic groups live along and within the northern and northwestern boundaries of the empire, a policy which in the long run familiarized them with the Chinese mode of sedentary rural life. It also brought about a surprisingly high degree of sinicization, at least in terms of knowledge of Chinese classics and history and acceptance of Confucian values and norms, of members of the ethnic aristocracy-a factor which might have mitigated the cultural shock of the Chinese during the fourth century A.D., when interethnic mingling and blending was intense and persistent amidst severe decimation of Chinese population. This century and the following fifth and sixth centuries A.D. seem to constitute a special chapter in which the blending of various streams of ethnicity in the bodies of the “Chinese” of entire North China may have reached an extent never equaled in subsequent Chinese history.

“What intrigues me the most is the situation in the fourth century, certainly the most chaotic in Chinese history. The incessant wars among various ethnic groups, devastation of large tracts of farm land, forced mass migrations, and recurrent famines and epidemics all exacted the heaviest toll on Chinese lives. On the other hand, all the major non-Chinese ethnic groups were of considerable size. There were well over 100,000 sinicized Huns who had been allowed to live along and within the Great Wall and who were the first to revolt against the Chin Dynasty and to establish a regional regime. The western part of the Chin empire, from Kansu, Kokonor, southwards to Sichuan and Yunnan, was teeming with Ti farmers and Ch’iang herdsmen, both of Tibetan stock. The one non-Chinese ethnic group destined to unify North China was the Hsien-pei, a major Tung-hu group. After groups of Northern Huns fled westwards to the Urals and beyond in A.D. 91, the Hsien-pei conglomerate had the numerical and military strength to incorporate some 500,000 or 600,000 Huns stranded on the steppe and also to absorb large numbers of their ethnic kin, the Wu-huan people previously subjugated by the Huns (Lin 1983, 152-53; Ma 1962a, 27). In A.D. 258, when the To-pa Hsien-pei subnation began to become powerful, it boasted of “more than two hundred thousand horse-riding archers.” In 308 the whole Hsien-pei conglomerate had more than 400,000 archers, which means an aggregate population of 2 million [Wei Shu, chap. 1, passim}. It is my conjecture that during this century of serious decimation of the Chinese population and of intense intermingling of peoples in North China, the ratio of major non-Chinese ethnic groups to the Northern Chinese might have been as high as one to five.

Turkic and Mongol Influences on Early Chinese Cultures

Suleyman the Magnificent, a famous Turkish leader

Ping-Ti Ho wrote: “After the To-pa Hsien-pei founded the Northern Wei dynasty in 386 and reunified all North China thirty years later, peace in general prevailed. The various non-Chinese ethnic groups, which had been uprooted from tribal living within and without the Chin empire since the beginning of the fourth century, were now scattered far and wide and mingled daily with the Chinese population. The continual deportation cumulatively involving a million Chinese peasants and craftsmen to the Northern Wei metropolitan area of Northern Shansi took place simultaneously with efforts to relocate large numbers of Hsien-pei soldiers for settled village farming. Forces of acculturation went on apace throughout the empire, while the cream of the Hsien-pei tribal army was stationed in the six northern headquarters, keeping constant vigilance against the fierce marauding Jou-jan nomads. [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Reenvisioning the Qing,” ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155 ]

“Contrary to the necessarily gradual process of acculturation at the bottom of the social scale, the ethnic aristocracy was susceptible to Chinese cultural influence rather early. A classic example is Chin Mi-ti (d. 86 B.C.), a captured heir-apparent to a Hsiung-nu Shan-yii (great khan), whose political and personal conduct was so profoundly influenced by Confucian moral precepts that he won contemporary recognition as a paragon of virtue; his descendants chose to die as Han loyalists rather than to serve the usurper Wang Mang [Han-shu, ch. 68}. Since such non-Chinese ethnic groups as the Huns, the Ti, and Ch’iang had been permitted to continue their tribal mode of living inside China since the first century B.C., it is to be expected that in the course of time their great and lesser chiefs knew the Han Chinese language. But I am surprised to learn that practically all of the leaders of various major non Chinese ethnic groups of the early fourth-century were not only well-versed in Chinese classics and history, but also took Chin Mi-ti as their role model. In spite of their inevitable involvement in the scramble for power which led to the rise and fall of a number of non-Chinese dominated regional states, their full acceptance of Confucian morals, norms, and of the Chinese imperial system as the only political orthodoxy indicates a considerably higher degree of sinicization than is usually expected of the “barbarians” [Chin-shu, ch. 101-3, passim}.

“Although the dynasty-founding To-pa group was less sinicized than the two other Hsien-pei subnations, they also had to follow the logic of the time: to shift a largely nomadic economy to the Chinese type of sedentary agriculture and to adopt by increasing measure the Chinese imperial system and bureaucracy for better management of the majority Chinese subjects. Besides, culturally and institutionally sinicization would serve as a common denominator with which to homogenize the polyethnic subject population. For all these reasons, the Hsiao-wen emperor from 494 onwards embarked upon a policy of systematic sinicization, which consisted of such measures as the moving of the capital from northern Shansi to Loyang, which was the heart of the agricultural zone, the prohibition of Hsien-pei language, the use of Chinese as the lingua franca, the change of polysyllabic Hsien-pei surnames into monosyllabic Chinese ones, the abandonment of Hsien-pei costumes for Chinese-style attires, and the full-scale adoption of Chinese rituals and legal code. By forcing the Hsien-pei aristocracy to take up permanent residence in the new metropolitan Loyang area and by encouraging their intermarriage with Chinese noble houses, he succeeded in forging a close bond between the biethnic ruling class. All these were parts of longrange planning for a military conquest of the southern Chinese dynasty-the only way to gain legitimacy to supreme rulership of the entire China world.

“Emperor Hsiao-wen did not live to see the realization of his ultimate goal. On the contrary, full-scale sinicization in the Loyang area made the Northern Wei court, aristocracy, and officialdom increasingly extravagant and effete. The subsequent negligence and degradation of the Hsien-pei rank and file at the six northern garrison headquarters precipitated a strong nativist revolt that lasted ten years and finally brought down the Northern Wei dynasty in 534. North China was politically divided into an eastern and a western state until the former was annexed by the latter in 577.

“Initially, both the eastern and western states had to vie with each other in attracting the broken-up units of the northern garrison forces. While the east ~remained strongly nativist and prejudiced against the majority Chinese population, the west carried out a policy of appeasing the nativist sentiments of the traditional Hsien-pei elements, on the one hand, and of generating a sense of Hsien-pei-Chinese solidarity, on the other. At the bottom, the “privilege” of military service was extended to propertied Chinese farmers, the backbone of the newly ‘created Chinese fu-ping army, so as to broaden the social and ethnic base of armed forces. At the top, the policy of power-sharing and intermarriage between the Hsien-pei and Chinese aristocracy was so successful that it was precisely this so-called Kuan-Lung (Shensi-Kansu) bloc that finally reunified all China and founded the Sui-T’ang multiethnic empires.

Turkic-Mongol Traditions Live on the Tang Dynasty

Ping-Ti Ho wrote: “The greatest political and military genius produced by this northwestern biethnic bloc was Li Shih-min (597-649), the second ruler but the real founder of the T’ang dynasty. Since his grandmother and mother were Hsien-pei, he was genetically 75 percent Hsien-pei, though legitimately Chinese. It was from this multiethnic cultural milieu that he acquired a profound understanding of the traits and customs of the most powerful of the steppe peoples, the Turks under the Great Khan Hsieh-li. From various historical sources it can now be ascertained that as early as 617-18 he had already entered a sworn brotherhood with Tu-li, the second-ranking great khan and nephew and adopted son of Hsieh-Ii. I suspect he was able to speak Turkish because in the fall of 624 when Hsieh-Ii and his troops reached the north bank of the Wei River near the capital city of Ch’ang-an, he determinedly left his forces behind and rode alone without any escort to confront Hsien-li from south ofthe river, reproaching the latter for failure to observe the spirit of a previous oath. Then he dispatched someone to remind Tu-li not to forget the bond of “sworn brotherhood (hsiang-huomeng).” This and many later accounts show that T’ang T’ai-Tsung was truly unique because the Turks and various steppe peoples genuinely believed that he was “one of them.” [Source: Excerpted from Ping-Ti Ho, “In Defense of Sinicization: A Rebuttal of Evelyn Rawski’s “Reenvisioning the Qing,” ” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 123-155 ]

“For a proper historical perspective, one should search deeper into the significance of the system of “Heavenly Khan.” Rawski, relying entirely on Pamela Crossley, contends that the origin of the “Khan of Khans” must be sought in Chinggis Khan and that “the ‘Khan of Khans’ was not a Chinese emperor” (Rawski 1996, 835). As is shown above, the archetypal Khan of Khans was the T’ang emperor T’ai-tsung’s “Heavenly Khanate.” E. G. Pulleyblank explains it best: “It established a separate basis of legitimacy for his rule beyond the Great Wall, with its roots in nomad conditions, and was not simply an extension of universalist claims by a Chinese Son of Heaven. Moreover, it had as its corollary the assumption, quite contrary to Chinese traditional attitudes, of the equality of barbarian and Chinese as subjects. This was a point ofview consciously maintained and expressed by T’ai-tsung” (Pulleyblank 1976, 38). Needless to say, T’ang T’ai-tsung’s legitimacy as the Chinese emperor was never questioned, while later “Khan of Khans” such as Kublai or Ch’ien-Iung, being “resident alien” in China, had to devise various political, institutional, cultural, and ideological means to legitimize their rulership in China. On the other hand, while later Tibetan Lamaist Buddhism could make Kublai or Ch’ien-Iung “God” incarnate (Franke 1978, esp. 77-79), T’ang T’ai-tsung’s Heavenly Khanate was a secular institution, though not devoid of cosmological meaning.

Genetic and Linguistic Affinity in Sino-Tibetan Populations

20111103-Wiki com Yarlung women.jpg
Tibetan women
Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language. Sino-Tibetan languages predominate in China and mainland Southeast Asia. They are broken into three main subfamilies: 1) Tibeto-Burman, 2) Tai and 3) Sinitic, including many of the languages spoken in China.

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “Sino-Tibetan languages include Chinese and Tibetan (TB), and the linguistic connection between these two subfamilies is well established (Martisoff 1991). Based on the archaeological findings, the ancestors who spoke Proto-Sino-Tibetan were estimated to live over 6000 years ago (Matisoff 1991; Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). In the genetic studies using classical autosomal markers (Du et al. 1997) and microsatellite markers (Chu et al. 1998), it has been confirmed that Tibetans diverged from the NEAS. [Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by 1) Feng Zhang, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, 2) Bing Su, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, 3) Ya-ping Zhang, Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-resource, Yunnan University and 4) Li Jin, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University. Author for correspondence (, 2007 The Royal Society ***]

“By analysing 19 Y-SNPs and 3 Y-STR markers in 607 individuals from 31 Sino-Tibetan-speaking populations residing in East, Southeast and South Asia, Su and other colleagues (Qian et al. 2000; Su et al. 2000a,b) showed that a T to C mutation at the M122 locus is highly prevalent in almost all of the Sino-Tibetan populations, which implied a strong genetic affinity among populations in the same language family. In addition, Su et al. (2000a,b) also suggested that the ancient people living in the upper–middle Yellow River basin ca 10 000 years ago were the ancestors of modern Sino-Tibetan populations. ***

“TB is one of the two subfamilies of the Sino-Tibetan language family. There are 351 living languages in this subfamily, primarily distributing in East, South and Southeast Asia. In China, TB-speaking populations mainly reside in Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan and Hunan. According to historical records, the TB populations were derived from the ancient Di-Qiang tribes in Northwest China. About 2600 BP, the TB populations embarked on a large-scale southward migration by the Tibetan–Burman Corridor (Wang 1994). This is consistent with genetic evidence based on Y chromosome markers that almost all the TB populations share a high frequency of M122-C and M134-deletion (Su et al. 2000a,b). ***

“Wen et al. (2004a,b) analysed 10 Y-SNPs in 965 individuals from 23 TB populations, and HVS-1 sequence and a few coding region variants of mtDNA in 756 individuals from 21 TB populations. Principal components analysis showed that the northern TB populations and the southern native groups played a significant role in shaping the gene pool of the southern TB populations with an unequal contribution of male and female lineages from the parental populations. ***

“Remapping Asian Migrations through Language” addresses language-based approaches to thinking about the encounters between, and movements of, people and ideas in Asia. The field is based on the research of Shu-mei Shih and others to establish Sinophone studies as an alternative to nation and ethnic-centred Chinese studies approaches and calls such as Jing Tsu's for a “new area studies” based on languages rather than regions.

Professor Shu-mei Shih Shu-mei Shih is professor of comparative literature, Asian languages and cultures, and Asian American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is one of the key figures in the development of “Sinophone studies," a new approach to the study of Sinitic languages, literatures, and cultures outside a national or ethnic paradigm. Like the Asian Migrations Research Theme, Shih's work engages the fields of diaspora, intercultural, global, and transnational studies, and seeks to understand culture beyond the boundaries of one nation. Her work has been particularly concerned with diasporic and transnational Sinophone communities. She has forcefully made the case against the traditional focus on ethnicity and nation at the expense of attention to language in the study of the movements of peoples and cultures beyond the boundary of one nation.

Chinese Culture Spreads Across Asia and the Pacific

Rice was introduced to Korea and Japan from China in the second millennium B.C. bronze metallurgy in the first millennium B.C. and writing in the first or early second millennium A.D. Chinese characters are still used in written Korean and Japanese today.

The ancestors of modern Laotians, Thais and possibly Burmese, Cambodians, Filipinos and Indonesians originated from southern China. The Austronesian family of languages of which are spoken as far west as Madagascar, as far south of New Zealand, as far east as Easter island and all Philippine and Polynesian languages most likely originated in China. A great diversity of these languages is found in Taiwan, which has led some to conclude they originated there or on the nearby mainland. Others believe they may have originated in Borneo or Sulawesi or some other place.

The ancestors of modern Southeast Asian people arrived from Tibet and China about 2,500 years ago, displacing the aboriginal groups that occupied the land first. They subsisted on rice and yams which they may have introduced to Africa.

Pottery and stone tools of southern Chinese origin dating back to 4000 B.C. have been found in Taiwan. The same artifacts have been found in archeological sites in the Philippines dating back to 3000 B.C. Because there were no land bridges linking China or Taiwan with the Philippines, one must conclude that ocean-going vessels were in regular use. Genetic studies indicate that closest genetic relatives of the Maori of New Zealand are found in Taiwan.

Southern Chinese culture, agriculture and domesticated animals (pigs, chickens and dogs) are believed to have spread from southern China and Taiwan to the Philippines and through the islands of Indonesia to the islands north of New Guinea. By 1000 B.C., obsidian was being traded between present-day Sabah in Malaysian Borneo and present-day New Britain in Papua New Guinea, 2,400 miles away. Later southern Chinese culture spread eastward across the uninhabited islands of the Pacific, reaching Easter Island (10,000 miles from China) around 500 A.D.

Did the First Americans and Japanese Come from China?

A DNA study published in May 2023 in Cell Reports revealed that some of the first arrivals in America came from China during two distinct migrations: the first during the last ice age, and the second shortly after. "Our findings indicate that besides the previously indicated ancestral sources of Native Americans in Siberia, the northern coastal China also served as a genetic reservoir contributing to the gene pool," Yu-Chun Li, one of the report authors, told AFP. [Source: Issam Ahmed, AFP, May 10, 2023]

AFP reported: Li added that during the second migration, the same lineage of people settled in Japan, which could help explain similarities in prehistoric arrowheads and spears found in the Americas, China and Japan. It was once believed that ancient Siberians, who crossed over a land bridge that existed in the Bering Strait linking modern Russia and Alaska, were the sole ancestors of Native Americans. More recent research, from the late 2000s onwards, has signaled more diverse sources from Asia could be connected to an ancient lineage responsible for founding populations across the Americas, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and California. Known as D4h, this lineage is found in mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from mothers and is used to trace maternal ancestry.

The team from the Kunming Institute of Zoology embarked on a ten-year hunt for D4h, combing through 100,000 modern and 15,000 ancient DNA samples across Eurasia. They eventually landed on 216 contemporary and 39 ancient individuals who came from the ancient lineage. By analyzing the mutations that had accrued over time, looking at the samples' geographic locations and using carbon dating, they were able to reconstruct the D4h lineage's origins and expansion history. The results revealed two migration events. The first was between 19,500 and 26,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum, when ice sheet coverage was at its greatest and climate conditions in northern China were likely inhospitable.

The second occurred during the melting period, between 19,000 and 11,500 years ago. Increasing human populations during this period might have triggered migrations. In both cases, the scientists think the travelers were seafarers who docked in America and traveled along the Pacific coast by boats. This is because a grassy passageway between two ice sheets in modern Canada, known as the "inland ice-free corridor," was not yet opened.

In the second migration, a subgroup branched out from northern coastal China to Japan, contributing to the Japanese people, especially the indigenous Ainu, the study said, a finding that chimes with archeological similarities between ancient people in the Americas, China and Japan. Li said a strength of the study was the number of samples they discovered, and complementary evidence from Y chromosomal DNA showing male ancestors of Native Americans lived in northern China at the same time as the female ancestors, made them confident of their findings. "However, we don't know in which specific place in northern coastal China this expansion occurred and what specific events promoted these migrations," he said. "More evidence, especially ancient genomes, are needed to answer these questions."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated June 2024

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